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Random Thoughts: Support for Saskatchewan #SticksOutForHumboldt

This week I write this article with a heavy heart. For those that don’t know, my hometown is Lake Lenore, Saskatchewan, which is a small farming community 30km away from Humboldt. This Friday, we endured the tragic events of our local Junior A hockey team, of whom, 15 have passed away when their team bus, headed for a playoff game, was struck by a semi-trailer.

I didn’t know many of the players personally. But those that were from our local area, some of them I knew their parents, their relatives and their friends. When you live in small communities like this, you know most everyone around, and your relations grow deep into the fabric of the communities around you.

Dana Brons HumboldtOne young lady on the bus was from my hometown, Dayna Brons, the team’s trainer. She’s a fighter and we hope she will make a full recovery, although she is in critical condition. She has ties to the lacrosse community as she was the trainer for the Junior B Saskatchewan SWAT and occasionally the trainer for the Junior A SWAT as well.

I also came to learn that the team captain, Logan Schatz passed away. Logan was involved with the ball hockey league in Saskatoon which I have been a part of for many years. In neighboring towns to mine, one young man, Jacob Leight passed away in the crash. Jacob Wassermann and Morgan Gobeil remain in hospital. Wassermann also has a long road to recovery ahead of him.

Humboldt is a city of just 6,000 people located about 100km east of Saskatoon. A large portion of the social fabric of the community is centered around the hockey team. They had just completed a triple overtime game, which they lost, before they headed to Nipawin for a must win game to keep their season alive. These bus trips are part of the reality when it comes to playing amateur sports and anyone that has played at any level will be familiar with them in this part of the country.

It’s a freak accident, but it doesn’t make the pain any less. There will be a long period to grieve what happened here, and as Saskatchewan people are used to doing, the team will rebuild and it will be back, but the memories will never fade. As the Chaplin said at the vigil service, the wound will heal, but the scar will never go away.

That being said, while no announcement has come from the SJHL as of yet, it is my hope that Nipawin and Estevan will continue on in the SJHL finals. As tough as this is, there is no sense in the players still with us not continuing the fight for supremacy, the same fight the Broncos players were striving for.

Evan Kirk Humboldt Saskatchewan Rush
Photo: NLL

I was extremely pleased with the outpouring of support from the lacrosse community for the people of Humboldt and the families of those affected. In particular, the Maple Ridge Burrards made a sizeable donation for the GoFundMe page that was set up for the team. The Coquitlam Jr. Adanacs are having an auction this week to raise money. Todd Labranche, who was in Saskatoon to referee Saturday night’s game, posted that he was donating half of his game fee to the cause and challenged his colleagues to do the same, which Ian Wilson obliged.

Many lacrosse organizations out there are sending condolences and forwarding the link to the GoFundMe page so their fans could contribute to the effort and we encourage you to do so too if you wish to contribute.

If you live in Saskatchewan, you can contribute to the cause by buying a ticket for the Broncos lottery. I hope that this sells out. The team relies on the lottery to keep the team afloat each year and now the money is needed more than ever.

The outpouring of support for that has been tremendous and as of 8pm Monday night, the page had raised $6,642,061, when the initial goal was just $50,000. It’s an all-time record for GoFundMe for any fundraiser in Canada. For the team members that survived, this will be an event which will affect them for a lifetime. The cost of medical treatments and psychological help will be tremendous for years to come. Make sure to always keep them in your thoughts and keep lending a hand for as long as they need it.

Somber Mood

As difficult as the news was to swallow Friday night, there was a critical game to play in Saskatoon Saturday night. What was normally a day of anticipation for many waiting for game-time seemed so irrelevant that day with the events back home. Luckily I had a bit of a distraction from the events with my good friend Gary Groob and his family flying in from Toronto for the game and lunch with Grandma Rush.

The atmosphere inside the SaskTel Centre was not as loud leading into the pre-game as it normally was. There were a lot of tears shed as the pre-game ceremony took place. Luckily once the Rush started to take a first quarter lead, the mood brightened up for a while and at least for the next two hours, we could at least get away from thinking about everything going on in Humboldt temporarily.

One sad part was that I received messages from fans that NLLTV was experiencing technical difficulties and missed the pre-game ceremony. If you missed it the replay on NLLTV does have the feed of the pre-game. I was the one that had to break the news to Bruce Urban after the game that the live feed had cut out. He literally fell back into his seat, that’s how heartbroken he was to hear that happened. If everyone had the same technical difficulties, this was a missed opportunity for the NLL.

We also had the unfortunate and insensitive comments from Danny Bohaychuk, the in-game announcer of the Calgary Roughnecks. There is no sense in repeating them. If you want to see them you can find them on his Twitter account. I’m going to leave this one at I trust the Roughnecks will do the right thing and have it properly addressed. Although the Roughnecks putting out a statement that they don’t associate themselves with his comments would have been helpful to put out the fire that brewed from them.

Given the Rush had just 24 hours to put something together to deal with the events, they did what they could. The Rush players wore Humboldt Broncos stickers on their helmets. A quick pre-game moment of silence was organized. The SaskTel Centre opened up two booths for fans to donate to the families and send condolence cards.

There were a number of people online complaining about the 50/50 proceeds not being donated. And a few were very insistent on this. For those that felt so strongly, I’ll break it down. The 50/50 draws are operated by the Saskatchewan Lacrosse Association, and not the Rush. Those funds are very critical to youth lacrosse development in this province. Now while the SLA didn’t donate the 50/50 funds, they did donate the funds from a silent auction of the Rush players’ practice jerseys to the Broncos. Once again this is an important source of revenue for them, but, they felt it was more important for that money to go to the Broncos. I would expect that the Rush organization will be doing other things in the coming weeks as they have more time to properly react and the families have had time to start the healing process.

The most heartwarming part of the night happened at the start of the fourth quarter, when the crowd started chanting “Let’s Go Broncos”.

Quickly after, the players of both teams were banging their sticks on the boards in unison and Dillon Ward banging his pads. Ward’s tweet put it best.

Good on the officials delaying the faceoff about 20 seconds to allow this to continue.

But as I said, the game seemed so irrelevant with everything going on. I’ll do my best to provide analysis of what happened this week although forgive me if my attention to detail isn’t up to par as I struggle to get through this.

How The West Was Won

In what was the biggest regular season game of the season for both teams, the Rush dominated most of the game for an 11-8 win over the Mammoth. In fact the score line is a little more flattering for the Mammoth offense than it should have been. The Rush were up 10-4 half way through the 4th quarter, when my good friend Gary Groob turns to me and says it’s over. I shook my head no at him. Rush fans know all too well, six goal leads are our nemesis this year. Sure enough the comeback started soon afterwards and with 1:23 to go that six goal lead dwindled to two. The Rush’s curse of not always playing a full 60 minute game was in full effect once again near the end. It didn’t help though that Kyle Rubisch had gone to the dressing room for most of the stretch when the Mammoth came back.

The first star of the game was Evan Kirk, and it was the obvious choice. He only faced 42 shots, but, the he pulled off a number of highlight saves all night long. The reality is that the Mammoth only scored one goal in the opening quarter, on a 2 on 1 from Ryan Benesch while the Mammoth were shorthanded.

Evan Kirk Humboldt Saskatchewan Rush
Photo: NLL

But if it wasn’t for Kirk early on, the Mammoth easily score five times in the opening quarter. Now Kirk did make one major mistake late on the Mammoth’s 8th goal. He went behind the net to make a check, when he really didn’t need to. Up three goals and late at the time, he should have played it conservatively and stayed in the net, but the check backfired and Bryce Sweeting fired the ball into an empty net. Luckily it’s an error that didn’t cost the Rush and Kirk can learn from. I’m not concerned.

The Rush defense were either smothering the Mammoth offense, or somebody was being left open and forcing Kirk to make his highlight reel saves. With this performance, Kirk moves ahead of Christian Del Bianco ever so slightly for the lowest GAA in the league with 10.54 (CDB is 10.55) and into a tie for 2nd with Dillon Ward, but behind CDB with a save percentage of 0.783.

Mark Matthews was having a Mark Matthews night. One goal, 6 assists. He takes the point lead back from Dhane Smith 94 to 91, with both players having three games remaining. Robert Church had 3 goals and 4 assists to move him to within three goals of the lead league held by Kevin Crowley, and with 90 points on the season, just one point behind Smith for 2nd place in the point race.

The one key in my mind though was that with Marty Dinsdale in the line-up, the offense seemed to be more productive and had a better flow. Now against the Mammoth, most offenses don’t get much of a chance to score, so 11 goals might not seem like much, to many teams facing the Mammoth, it’s one great effort. The decision to play Dinsdale was automatic. Dan Dawson was away this weekend while he was attending his sister’s wedding, which was originally scheduled months ago during a Rochester bye week. But the key here is that the Rush offense seemed to be more intact and flowed far better with Dinsdale in the line-up. It wasn’t his production on the scoresheet, he only had one assist in the game. It was what he was doing to get Robert Church open that is important.

Now I would say that come playoffs time, unless something major changes, the Rush should be dressing Dinsdale and making Dawson the healthy scratch. But now with three games to go that don’t mean much, it might be a time to get Dawson in the line-up and get him better acquainted with the system.

The Rush power-play went 3 for 4 on the night, and the one they missed, they scored just seconds after the power-play expired but before the Mammoth had a true 5 man set on the floor. This brings the Rush power-play efficiency to 71.4% on the year. There are two marks to look out for with this percentage. First off, the league record is 68% by the Calgary Roughnecks. For the Rush to break this record, and based on their past games they should have approximately 14 more power-play opportunities in their last three games, the Rush have to go just over 50%. The other mark is whether the Rush can beat the 70% hurdle. To do this, the Rush need to go approximately 9 for 14 the rest of the way. Of course the Rush probably won’t have exactly 14 chances, but within reason, they need to go 63% the rest of the way.

Humboldt Saskatchewan Rush
Photo: NLL

For the Mammoth, their defense is not to blame here. If you hold the Rush to 10 goals, not including the empty netter, you had a pretty good night. The Levi rule didn’t work out for just the second time this year. The Levi rule is that when the Mammoth allow 12 or less goals, they win and when they allow 13 or more, they lose. The only two exceptions to this, this past game, and an earlier 14-13 win at home against the Stealth.

The offense was the weak part of the Mammoth game. While Benesch had a hat trick, the rest of the Mammoth offense struggled. If I had a player of the game for the Mammoth, it’s Joey Cupido who was wreaking havoc all night long. Seeing him play in person basically solidified, barring a miracle, who I will be selecting in my picks for the Transition Player of the Year. He is so lightning fast and he is quick to evade you. There were too many times for my own comfort he got behind the Rush defense.

The win for the Rush solidifies 1st place in the West, a first round bye, and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Mammoth will have to play the Roughnecks in the west semi-final, a team they have historically had all kinds of difficulty getting past in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, as it was announced, the West Division final will take place in Saskatoon on Thursday, May 10. The SaskTel Centre is booked for two events on the Friday and Saturday that weekend, necessitating the date change. This will also make for a difficult sell for the Rush for this game as out of town fans will have a tough time getting off work to make the game.

Other Games

Unfortunately I’m not going to analyze the other two games too much. As much as I was trying to concentrate on them Sunday, the events of the world around me had my attention fading constantly. In all honesty, I had to go back and watch the Stephan Leblanc goal that tied the game in Uncasville with seven seconds to go as that’s how quickly my attention span would go to grieving mode.

Both games came down to the buzzer with New England picking up a 13-12 overtime win against Calgary. The reality was New England was seven seconds away from their season for all intents and purposes being over. If they were two games back of third place, and with tiebreak problems, it would have taken a miracle for New England to make the playoffs. Instead that game saving goal gave them the opportunity to win in OT and now everyone in the East is either 8-7 or 7-8 and New England is very much alive. If any team goes 3-0 the rest of the way, you should expect that they are in the playoffs. Anything else and there’s no guarantee that you make it.

Clearly New England needs to have more consistent performances. They went down 5-1 and 6-2 early in the second half, only to go on a run to even things up late in the third quarter. The one major positive was Callum Crawford who had five goals on the night. But the major negative was how bad the defense was around Aaron Bold early on and how Calgary was open at will in the opening half.

As for the other game, Georgia got a late goal from Jesse King with 53 seconds to go. Georgia let a 6-3 lead evaporate by going without a goal for 20 minutes including a scoreless 3rd quarter and by the end of the third, it was Toronto that held the lead. But Toronto simply couldn’t get any momentum going in the fourth. After Georgia tied it up early, Toronto scored three times, and in every occasion, the Swarm responded within a minute.

Georgia Swarm Toronto Rock Humboldt Saskatchewan Rush
Photo: NLL

The lowlight for the Rock was that Tom Schreiber was unable to play, although he did travel with the team and took in the early warmups. But he just wasn’t ready, and that’s fine because you don’t want a repeat situation of Cody Jamieson. But the highlight was Dan Lintner, who has been a healthy scratch most of this season, but had 5 goals on Sunday.

Lacrosse Camp

This past week I spent mornings at work, and afternoons taking Vasyli to lacrosse camp. What a little champ. He was in a camp for kids an age category older than him. On the last two days of the camp, Derek Keenan and Adrian Sorichetti were teaching the camp.

One thing I will let people know, is that if you’re looking to set up a camp for younger players, I would highly advise you to consider Sorichetti as an option. He somewhat speaks the kids’ language, and I could see Vasyli getting rid of several of his small mistakes in minutes with the instruction Adrian was giving. I have been trying to correct those little mistakes for two years, but that’s all a part of being a kid. He won’t listen to dad but will listen to a player he looks up to.

As for Vasyli, I’m proud dad acting up here. In the game the final day of camp, playing against kids that were all older than him, Vasyli had 2 goals, 9 loose balls and 3 CTO’s (I’m an accountant, so of course I keep track of numbers). I’m terribly proud of him. His first words to me after the game, “I only got two goals.” He’s a determined kid.

Three Way Tiebreaks

Last week I didn’t get into this, but given that everyone in the East is within one game, it’s time to take a realistic look at how the three way tiebreaks look.

The rules have changed since 2016, where an anomaly in the media guide led the league to have to do a reset on the tiebreak. Now, the tiebreak is simpler. If three teams are tied, it is their combined winning percentage against the other two teams in the tiebreak that determines who is first, second and third. If two teams are tied on winning percentage, then we revert back to the head to head rules between those two teams as to who is further ahead.

There are 10 possible scenarios for three way ties. Let’s simplify it for you as much as we can.
Here’s the three way tiebreaks that are already set in stone:

  • Rochester, Toronto, New England – 1st to Toronto, 2nd to New England, 3rd to Rochester
  • Buffalo, Georgia, Toronto – 1st to Georgia, 2nd to Buffalo, 3rd to Toronto
  • Buffalo, Georgia, New England – 1st to Buffalo, 2nd to Georgia, 3rd to New England

Then there’s four where at least one team knows its spot in the tiebreak and the other spots aren’t too complicated:

  • Buffalo, Rochester, Georgia – 1st goes to Rochester. Buffalo needs to beat Rochester on April 28th to be 2nd in this tiebreak. Otherwise Georgia is 2nd.
  • Buffalo, Toronto, New England – 3rd goes to New England. The winner of the Buffalo vs Toronto game on April 21st is 1st and the loser 2nd.
  • Rochester, Georgia, Toronto – 1st to Georgia, 2nd goes to the winner of Toronto vs. Rochester on April 13th
  • Toronto, Georgia, New England – 1st to Georgia, New England needs to beat Georgia on April 29th to be 2nd, otherwise 2nd place belongs to Toronto.
    And then we have these situations. If you are doing the math yourself, you might think that some of these tiebreaks aren’t decided yet, but they are. The reason they are is that the only way somebody can catch up in the tiebreak for 1st place is by a scenario that makes it impossible for the three teams to be tied in the first place. If you want the details on these anomalies, send me a message.
  • Rochester, Georgia, New England – 1st to New England. For Georgia to finish 2nd, they would need to beat New England on April 29 and have Rochester lose to New England on April 21. Otherwise, Rochester is 2nd and Georgia is 3rd.
  • Buffalo, Rochester, New England – Buffalo is in 1st, 2nd goes the winner of New England and Rochester on April 21.
  • Buffalo, Rochester, Toronto – 1st goes to Toronto. Currently, Buffalo and Rochester are both 2-3 in the 3-way head to head battle. Both have two games remaining to determine 2nd. If Buffalo and Rochester are still tied at the end of the year, the winner of the remaining game between Buffalo and Rochester on April 28th is 2nd .

Let’s hope that last one doesn’t happen so I don’t have to confuse you again.

Attendance Update

Saskatchewan was close to a sell-out with 14,971, which slightly expands their lead in the average attendance to 14,619 compared to 2nd place Colorado with 13,657.

New England was below average with 5,098. It’s too bad that they didn’t get an extra 800 people there to see such a great game. But the scheduling couldn’t have been worse with Wrestlemania and the final day of The Masters on the same day.

And Georgia… well… it was fairly empty as usual. The band dragged it up a bit, but The Masters and Wrestlemania couldn’t have helped.

Weekly Picks

Two perfect weeks in a row. Who could have thought it? But let’s not get too cocky just yet. My record is now 43-25. This week is a tough one because four teams have nothing to play for and how they’ll react is anyone’s guess.

Rochester over Toronto – we still don’t know if Tom Schreiber can play, and without him the Rock’s chances diminish quickly. Even if he can play, he likely won’t be 100%. It’s too many what if’s for the Rock that will make me take a much more certain thing in Rochester.

Saskatchewan over Vancouver – if anything the Stealth have more to play for here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Tyler Carlson got the start for the Rush in this game. But Carlson stole one for the Rush against the Stealth earlier this year. With such a disparity between the teams, even with the Rush having little to play for, they just have too much talent not to win this one.

New England over Colorado – yes, New England is on the road, but their season is potentially on the line. Colorado has nothing to play for. Motivation wins this one for the Black Wolves.

Buffalo over Calgary – once again, one team with nothing to play for and one with a lot on the line. Buffalo is the more motivated team.

Georgia over Saskatchewan – surprise, I’m not picking the Rush for the first time since week 2. But there’s too many factors that tip the balance of the scales to the Swarm. They’re rested and waiting in Saskatoon while the Rush are playing in Langley. The Swarm are also the far more motivated team. Also if anyone is banged up for the Rush, they’ll be playing a few practice roster players. So because of these unusual situations, I’ll take the Swarm.

Comedy In Absence

After such a crazy week, some humor is needed to brighten people’s moods. Here’s a great one that Rush fans out there will understand.

Travis Pilon Saskatchewan Rush fans Travis Pilon has become a personality all to himself at the SaskTel Centre. He has long bushy hair, a long bushy beard to go with it, and a custom made bunnyhug (hoodie for those not living in Saskatchewan) that is the combination of the Rush logo and the Pilsner beer logo. He always has a beer in hand. But the key to his personality is where his seat is located, 1st row and the seat right next to the opponent’s penalty box. When the penalty box is occupied, Travis is certain to keep them company, everything from the Stealth players cracking jokes and taking selfies with him, to Shawn Evans getting into a 90 second war of words with him and eventually squirting Travis with the water bottle.

Prior to last week, Travis had only missed one Rush game ever, but, then he made it public that he’s missing the most important game of the regular season. This got him the moniker amongst the hardcore Rush fans as a “Part-Time Fan.” His reason was he was planning a surprise birthday party for his wife. Not an acceptable reason to miss a Rush game.

Somehow Travis was on social media trying to get rid of his moniker of part-time fan status. The solution, somebody had to dress up as Travis and be in his seat for the game. He started to volunteer his friend Nicole to do it. We all thought this was simply Facebook banter. But then come game time, well, let’s let the picture do the talking…

Travis Pilon Saskatchewan Rush fans

Good Company

As difficult as this past weekend was, we had guests arrive Friday afternoon to make their annual pilgrimage to the SaskTel Centre. Gary Groob from LaxPhilly brought his family this year. It was his wife, Esmeralda’s birthday and we had a good celebration. Took them down to the Rush store where shockingly, in a sports store, the wives were busier shopping than the husbands. It goes to show how good the Rush are at getting merchandise options in stock.

Esmeralda bought a green Rush jersey amongst other things. She admitted to Bruce Urban and I that she likes the colours much better than her Rock jerseys, so she was encouraged by the two of us to wear it to the ACC next game. She might actually do that.

But it’s always good to see Gary and his family, and we are looking forward to seeing them again next year.

Until next time…. Keep Humboldt in your prayers, and leave a stick outside your front door, in case the boys need it.

#SticksOutForHumboldt Evan's Random Thoughts

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